Nothing can be more frustrating to teams and their fans than to see players miss playing time with injuries.
Whether through overuse, reckless play or through no fault of their own, injuries are always a major concern for every team looking to move into the big time.
Through a very scientific method of previous injuries, team fortunes and some criteria that I’ll explain as I go, here are 23 players who could be missing big time this upcoming season.
Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart has proven himself to be a dynamic playmaker, collaborating with fellow back DeAngelo Williams. However, he has also acquired a nasty rep of picking up injuries.
With Williams’ return up in the air, can Stewart be counted on to carry on the bulk of the load? I’m not convinced.
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Manning lands on this list for two reasons: He is getting older, and the solid protection he has seen through his career will begin to show signs of cracking.
Though Manning has had the benefit of being one of the least sacked QBs in the league, he was sacked 18 times in 2010, nearly double from the 10 sacks he took in 2009. Unless the Colts take proactive steps to increase protection for Manning, they could find the face of their franchise missing more than inconsequential late season contests.
And that's without mentioning the series of neck surgeries Manning has gone through in the past two years.
With that said, Manning’s ability to hit the deck to avoid big hits may be his saving grace as he begins to see more pressure.
Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson brings two things to mind: Making explosive plays and taking explosive hits.
This came to a front with the humongous hit he took from the Atlanta Falcons Dunta Robinson. While the blame for the hit could be pointed mostly at Kevin Kolb, it’s certain that as Jackson takes passes across the middle he isn’t the best size to take the big hits.
His play in special teams also places him at risk for big hits, which has to be a concern for those looking for big production from the young wideout.
While Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick has seen his stock jump drastically in his return to a starting role, he still can occasionally put himself in situations that leave him at risk for injury.
This was most clear when he took a nasty shot in the Eagles’ October 2010 loss to the Washington Redskins. Running toward the end zone (and refusing to slide), Vick was blasted in the chest, bruising several ribs.
While Vick has definitely toned down the risks that made him vulnerable as a member of the Atlanta Falcons, he still has to work on picking his moments in order to avoid injury.
Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed has been known for his aggressive, high-flying style of play, but he’s also shown a knack for injuries.
The biggest injury concern for Reed going down the road is his injured neck, which has led him to talk seriously about his retirement.
While his decision may lead to this slide becoming irrelevant, his advanced age and style of play will make the risk of deepening his injury only go higher the longer he plays.
Look at the numbers. Cutler took a whopping 52 sacks during the season, 12 more than any other quarterback in the league.
While the Bears drafted Gabe Carimi to shore up their offensive line, it’s fair to say Cutler may see himself in harm's way in 2011.
High profile cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha may be the crown jewel of the upcoming free agent signing period, but he also has some injury concerns that have held him back this past season (most notably the high ankle injury shown in the embedded video).
Teams looking to sign Asomugha have reason to be concerned that their new high cost asset may not have the longevity to match with his All-World level talent.
While Oakland Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell’s first year in black and silver left much to be desired, he appears to be the starter for 2011.
While not playing a full season, Campbell still managed to come in tied for eighth place in sacks received (33). That’s a lot of hits.
Unfortunately, Oakland still has to be Oakland, so I can imagine the protection situation will most likely get worse before it gets better.
This could get ugly.
You can always count on one injury to derail a strong team pressing for a major playoff run. This could be the one.
Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles, who finished second in rushing yards last season, has been able to get his rush stats on fewer rushes than most of his counterparts, and with limited injury concerns.
However, as the AFC West Champion Chiefs make him a bigger part of their attack, expect teams to try to make his life difficult. The target is on his back.
While New York Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson's first year in green and white was injury-free, he did show some signs of aging (particularly his loss of pace from his prime San Diego Chargers days).
Tomlinson's prospects of remaining injury-free will hang primarily on how well the team balances the load between him and fellow back Shonn Greene. If given too many carries, Tomlinson will show his wear and tear pretty quickly.
Though Tomlinson can contribute to the Jets, it's beginning to become clear that his grounding will come sooner rather than later.
The funniest thing about this projection is we may not know about any injury until next offseason. Polamalu, one of the toughest defenders in the game, has been known to keep a tight lip on any reports of injuries that might give opponents an edge.
Either way, Polamalu’s aggressive style and hustle might land himself in trouble, especially as he’s not getting any younger.
While it’s tough to pick against one of the classier guys in the league, it’s only a matter of time before he plays himself into some missed playing time.
While rookie quarterback Cam Newton has the ability to be the face of an up-and-coming Carolina Panthers franchise, he also has to be the starter while the team slowly rebuilds.
The odds are against him. Both Matt Moore and Jimmy Clausen saw time in the trainer's room with injuries they sustained as Panthers starters. The view under center may not be as optimistic as Newton hoped when he was taken first overall in April.
The lack of protection, combined with Newton's running style, could open him up for some pretty devastating hits.
Cameron Wake, who proved himself to be a sacking machine last year, showed some vulnerability, particularly when he injured his hip in the Dolphins game against the Tennessee Titans.
An injury to Wake would be a nightmare for the Dolphins, who have few others that can recreate that kind of pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
With that said, many Dolphins fans would be more than thrilled to see a repeat of the 14 sacked quarterbacks left in Wake's...errr.....wake.
It’s tough to crack on the little guy, but Sproles’ diminutive stature puts him at risk for big hits (like this ugly shot he took from Oakland’s Rolondo McClain).
Sproles, who struggled in being a primary option for the first time last season, may find himself at risk for more hits as teams prepare game plans around the smaller back.
His special teams work (especially punt returns) also puts his smaller-than-average frame at risk for crushing hits.
Sproles may be out for a little bit.
Oakland Raiders running back Darren McFadden has been labeled fragile after injuries in both his first and second seasons. Despite coming in fifth for total yards from scrimmage in 2010, McFadden has to prove he can be the lead option for an entire year.
In that sense, he may be one of several players to take advantage of the extended rest provided by the lockout to come back better than before.
But that’s only if he can stay off the disabled list.
It appears Detroit Lions quarterback Matt Stafford just can’t catch a break.
While developing talent has excitement in Detroit higher than it has been in the past few seasons, one can only hope Stafford can get a full season to allow the league to see some of the promise that had fans excited in the first place.
Houston Texans running back Arian Foster surprised a lot of people (and won plenty of fantasy leagues) with his impressive 2010 season.
Despite the awesome season, I can’t help but see comparisons to former Texans standout Domanick Williams (formerly Domanick Davis). Williams, the team’s all time leading rusher, exploded in 2003 and 2004 for 1,000-plus yards, until injuries derailed his progress.
While Foster has missed little action with injuries, he did admit that he played with an injury to his knee to keep his job.
Hopefully Foster has shown enough in 2010 to ensure that any time out for injuries won’t cost him his job.
Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has not been afraid to get his name on the disabled list, through injuries on and off the field. Whether it’s a foot or a shoulder or a motorcycle accident, Roethlisberger can and will find a way to get hurt.
It’s not a stretch to say 2011 will not be much different from years before. Roethlisberger’s gung-ho mentality and scrambling will put himself in another bad spot, and hopefully the Steelers can hang for a few games while he gets himself back to health.
Jerod Mayo, one of the New England Patriots' leaders on the defensive side of the ball, may miss time with his past history of knee issues along with his physical style of play.
Pats fans are hoping his health is more in line with his 2010 season rather than his injury plagued 2009 year.
Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten is another tough addition to this list, but justified given some of his decision making.
As one example, in this clip Witten continues a play after being stripped of his helmet. While it's noble for somebody to play until the whistle blows, you also have to wonder the logic of making a play like that.
Witten continues to be one of the team's more reliable offensive weapons, but at the same time his recent injury history suggests he will likely be sidelined again during the upcoming season.
While Cleveland Browns running back Peyton Hillis’ toughness and charisma made him a solid choice for the cover of Madden NFL 2012, he unfortunately may become a victim of his own success.
The problem for Hillis comes from the rest of the Browns offense, which has many questions at the skill positions.
Hillis, who already has gone through his fair share of injuries (to various parts of the body), will now be expected to carry even more of the Browns’ load.
That spells nothing but trouble.
It's safe to say that it wouldn't be a huge surprise for probable free agent Reggie Bush to miss some time in 2011.
What will be interesting is to see what teams will look to go after him, given his shaky injury background.
I don't like to predict against Steve Smith, one of the classier guys in a wide receiver talent pool filled with prima donnas. But he's not getting any younger, and his high flying style can only bring him problems at this point.
Smith, who by all signs will not return to the Carolina Panthers in 2011, will hopefully land in a place where he won't have to be a top receiving option. That way, when he inevitably misses a few games, it doesn't lead to a dramatic drop for his new squad.
One piece of advice: Stay away from flag football...